The pursuit of stupendous scale means startups will make many if not all possible mistakes available to them. Some of these failures will have high societal costs - think FB and Cambridge Analytica, Robinhood and Gamestop, Uber and all its scandals. This is a feature of our tech ecosystem. This is a decision we’ve made consciously or unintentionally. And if left unchecked, tomorrows’ startups will also fail in profound ways that have high societal costs. This is the tradeoff we’ve accepted
Tobi-This piece is great! I love these pieces in particular:
"They have shareholders to pay, trust funds to pad, foundations to fund, earnings forecasts to beat, and new countries to expand to. The nature of unchecked capitalism demands that these companies get bigger and bigger, further entrenching their influence and power over us. This necessary expansion widens the area under the graph of societal harms."
"Beyond illegal monopolies, there is a whole class of social costs that we don’t talk about enough in tech. We don’t yet have a good way of quantifying and conceptualizing these harms, partly because technophiles continue to proclaim that their tools are all neutral (they are not)."
I am not 100% sure I agree with your posit: "The pursuit of scale itself is not evil." The more I dig into capitalism and White Supremacy the more convinced I am that "scale" is a euphemism for monster. Scale implies: Bigger is better. Faster is better. Replication is better. It takes all the humanity out of things: less time for 1:1 human interaction, real conversations, organic small, steady growth, and the main goal for scale is to make more, be bigger, be better. It is the outcome of a marketplace based on competition, not cooperation. And yet, social enterprise is no better...they talk about scale all the time. Will your idea replicate? How many people do you impact? What are you measuring for impact? The thing is if your impact is health, well-being, a safer internet, better sustainability, and decisions for "planet and people" over profit, scale is secondary to making the right choices. Is it more important the number of people you touch with a product or service, or the quality of life you create and shifts you make for the people you can touch in the time you have?
The Care economy is a good example of this. It is not easily scalable, not high paid, or paid at all, which is how we are rewarded and how we sustain ourselves. Yet, it is arguably the most important job there is. The Invisible and Emotional labor of care work doesn't scale. Therefore under current standards for investors and governments, it is worthless.
This is coming from someone who has BIG dreams and would have no problem unseating the current reigning leaders in my industry. But scale is not my initial goal–how big can this idea get? My goal is how can I make this idea the best it can be? FWIW it makes it hard to show Silicon Valley why investing in good ideas (mostly from underestimated, underrepresented founders) is a good investment, even if it only changes the lives of a handful of people.
"Scale" may not be evil, but the pursuit of it, imo, is ego-driven, patriarchal, capitalist, and antithetical to "building back better" for "people and planet". Harsh? Maybe. But consider the Industrial Revolution, scale, but at what cost if we are in a 4th mass extinction, GBV is on the rise, equality in the workplace and home is a distant dream for many, and worldwide economic gaps continue to grow. (Insert Debbie Downer GIF).